Billabong Crows coach Jason Kerr fears reserve grade and junior football will fall by the wayside if the AFL continues to ignore country football.
Kerr believes the battle for player numbers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is about to hit a crisis point unless urgent action is taken.
Several clubs in both the Hume and Tallangatta leagues have already expressed concern about a chronic player shortage with the season less than a month away.
Kerr said he was astounded to learn last week that at least one Murray league club was contemplating not fielding a reserves side.
"There are alarm bells going off everywhere but can somebody tell me what the AFL is doing to help country clubs?" Kerr said.
"It's no secret that clubs have been batting dwindling numbers for a long time.
"Coronavirus was a curve ball that nobody saw coming and after having 12 months off a lot of players are weighing up their playing futures.
"A lot of clubs are hopeful players will turn up to training on the eve of the season and there will be sufficient numbers for the reserves and juniors.
"But I'm not so sure that's going to happen.
"I think some players are using COVID as an excuse not to play when their communities need them the most and people are trying to get their lives back to normal."
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Kerr said an advertising campaign by the AFL to help target juniors and spike interest in country football was needed urgently.
He also called for a restructure of country leagues.
Kerr said the lop-sided nature of most competitions in the area was also a major deterrent to participants.
"I would love to see the AFL spend as much money promoting country football as they do on AFL womens," Kerr said.
"Maybe an advertising campaign featuring some of the local talent in the AFL like Jack Ziebell, Ben Paton, Jack Crisp and most recently Elijah Hollands.
"One of my biggest gripes is when you watch the footy scoreboard on a Saturday night and you see a lot of sides cop a 200-point flogging," he said.
"One of the major reasons that happens is because of a lack of players.
"Then it becomes a vicious cycle for the clubs involved.
"Players and spectators don't want to turn up because they know they are going to get flogged.
"Kids soon get disheartened and find other interests.
"That's why I think all the mergers in the Hume league have been the best thing for country football.
"It has given those small communities a club instead of having to fold and a sustainable future."
Kerr boasts plenty of experience in country football after playing more than 500 matches.
He spent time on the Sydney Swans list, played SANFL with West Adelaide and was a dual premiership player with North Albury and played more than 200 matches at Bunton Park.
Kerr has also been heavily involved in junior football and spent two years coaching the Murray Bushrangers as well as a five-year stint coaching Cobram thirds.
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